How Washington Performing Arts Created a Virtual Gala with Smashing Success

One of the most honored civic institutions in America, Washington Performing Arts made the difficult decision to transform their 600 person Annual Gala to an online and livestream event in 72 hours.

Making the switch from an in-person event to virtual event was something we didn’t expect. But WPA’s virtual gala broadened their reach and overall helped raise vital funds. In the wake of this new reality, this is something that we are bringing to current and future clients.” Roger Whyte, Principal of RJ Whyte

Online Fundraising Activities

Online Fundraising Activities

Even with such a quick-turn of events, Washington Performing Arts was able to bring their in-person fundraising activities online. These included:

What made this event unique

What Made This Event Unique?

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WPA took their in-person gala format virtual in a matter of 72 hours. Because they could open the “Virtual Gala” to the online public they reached a wider audience.

With the help of RJ Whyte Event Productions, WPA livestreamed the event from Salamander Hotel & Resort. They curated a trimmed down silent auction featuring their best items. Their auctioneer showcased the auction items throughout the virtual program.

For the Live Auction, they had a phone bank with staff so donors could call in live bids. The Fund-A-Need, they successfully moved their paddle raise to a digital appeal. There was a screen with scrolling donors names, enabling the auctioneer to thank supporters in real time.

Virtual Fundraising Strategies

Virtual Fundraising Strategies

Washington Performing Arts made some necessary adjustments to their event program to drive donor engagement and motivation to give. They:

  • Transformed event space into a TV style studio
  • Showcased sponsors during program
  • Kept auction to facilitate virtual appeal & live auction
  • Live performances throughout virtual event
  • Selected 100 best auction items to move online
  • Included Gala Honoree in virtual program
  • Created a gala hotline for live auction bids
  • Used real-time scoreboard for live appeal updates
  • Embedded links on website
  • Linked to livestream, YouTube and auction together

Best Practices/Lessons Learned

Best Practices and Lessons Learned

#FearlessFundraisers all over the world are learning as they go with the shift to virtual fundraising. In retrospect, Washington Performing Arts implemented these best practices to make their event a success:

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  • Keep program short. Attention is shorter online.
  • Vary performance. Mix of live and recorded.
  • Have different settings to keep interest (main stage, interview set, auction area).
  • Highlight event info (performers, sponsors, phone numbers, mobile bidding site).
  • Do outreach to targeted live auction supporters.
  • Push event out via social media – more the better.
  • Make sponsors feel special! Ship them a bottle of wine and give shout outs.
  • Have a pre-show (“make a signature drink” with bartender, video loop of auction items).
  • Provide links to everything in one place.



Washington Performing Arts didn’t know what results to expect but were ecstatic by the overwhelmingly positive response. A move to virtual paid off for them to say the least:

  • 612 Bids
  • 5.7 Bids Per Item
  • 100% of Items Sold
  • 1009 Supporters
  • $110K Online Donations
  • Both their live and silent auction exceeded the previous years goals!

Connect with a Cause

You can learn more about Washington Performing Arts and support their mission by visiting their website.

Wrapping Up!

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